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Remembering the McCullough family of Cannington Lake

The McCullough Farm has a rich history.

KENOSEE LAKE - Pat Butler is a long-time resident of Kenosee Lake and the daughter of Ed and Margaret (Madge) McCullough and has a very interesting and unique family.

Sam Rogers was a Quaker and a carpenter who emigrated from Pennsylvania to Ontario in the 1880s. He headed west in the late 1890s to Fleming, which was part of the North West Territories at the time. It was there he met Margaret Eason Finlay and in 1900 they were married on Christmas day.   

In 1901, Margaret (Madge) Rogers was born, the oldest of which for a family of eight. When she was just 17 years old, she taught school north of Arcola where she completed her Grade 12. She then attended normal school in Regina and became a certified schoolteacher.

Madge then taught in various country schools, including Quimper school near Ponteix, where she met Ed McCullough. They were married in 1934. After two years of farming in a land of drought and dust, and having their Massey Harris tractor repossessed, they moved back to Madge’s log cabin at Kenosee Lake, which was fondly known as Happy Days.

To supplement their income, Ed worked at the golf course and Madge cleaned cabins for a meagre $3 a day. A large food source was the massive and plentiful fish caught from the lake.

Madge’s good friend and neighbour, Charlie Weatherald, then sold the McCulloughs a section of land. That land was originally owned by John Henry Turton, who had built a huge stone house on the property. There was no down payment required and no interest was to be charged for four years.

In the late 1930s, they were able to clear a few acres of land and planted some registered Royal Flax. With Ed breaking up additional land, Madge handpicked the weeds and were able to harvest some seed. The next year, they were able to sow that registered seed. That year was 1940, and in anticipation of a good crop, Ed built two wooden granaries. That fall they harvested a bumper crop, and they sold their flax for an exorbitant price.

With the money received from that windfall, they were able to repay the entire Weatherald loan ahead of schedule. It must be noted that three of those four quarters purchased came with oil mineral rights.

The McCulloughs decided to get into cattle and purchased two registered purebred Hereford cows named Bonnie and Lassie. One of their offspring bulls was crowned reserve champion at the Regina Winter Fair in 1942.

In the 1930s, for two years, Madge was not paid a teaching salary due to the Great Depression. She finally received a lump settlement in 1942 and with those funds purchased another half section of land, with Madge naming it the Brayford Place. That land also came with the mineral rights.

Ed was an eloquent speaker and although he only had a Grade 10 education, he could read a book and recite its contents word for word. He became interested in politics and was elected as a member of Parliament with the CCF in 1945. He went to work in Ottawa and Madge did the farming and ranching with hired men and her three children, Peg, Jerry and Pat. 

In the late 1940s, there was the smell of oil in the air and many salesmen, commonly known as oil vultures, descended on the area to convince landowners to sell their mineral rights. In fact, two of them travelled to Ottawa and convinced Ed to sell. With the proceeds he proudly went out and purchased a brand new car.

However, Madge refused to sign off her rights, despite months of threats and intimidation. Eventually, Madge sold some cows to repay the salesmen, and their oil rights were reinstated. Madge also made Ed sell the new car.

In the ‘50s, the McCulloughs continued to farm with Ed in Ottawa for months at a time. And then, one winter day in 1958, drillers from Texas descended onto their land to drill the first oil well in the area. Daughter Pat, then 17 years old, vividly remembers that day.

“The lead driller walked into our house, covered with oil from head to toe. He borrowed our telephone, phoned his head office in Texas and said, “We have just drilled a gusher.”

Several more wells were drilled and by the late ‘60s the area just east of the Moose Mountains had many more pump jacks.

Ed was an MP from 1945-49 and from 1953-58. He returned home to farm but still had other dreams and aspirations. In 1948 they had built a hip-roof barn. In the early 1960s, they decided to clean it up and held barn dances weekly throughout the summer.

In fact, Pat’s daughter Pam is still in possession of the original dance wax. The family also provided trail rides for the children and had a riding academy.

Ed still had big dreams and then decided to build a ski hill just north of Cannington. He purchased the CPR railway station in Carlyle and had building movers lined up to transport. They hauled the building up to Cannington but then refused to move it up the hill. That idea ended abruptly.

 In the early 1970s, they sold their cows and purchased another four quarters of land at Cannington Lake. In the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s, it was on that land that they operated Cannington Lake Resort, which attracted many campers and anglers.

They moved the Frobisher general store with living quarters to the lake. The resort also had cabins and boats for rent, a miniature golf course, and a playground. They also sold some already subdivided lots which were purchased by various individuals.

Local carpenter Keith Richards built the McCulloughs a beautiful log cabin on the east side of Cannington Lake which was eventually sold.

Ed and Madge have since passed away, in 1994 and 1998, respectively, but Butler and her only child, Pam Ste. Marie, have many fond memories.

“Dad was the most energetic man I have ever known, a dreamer, and a doer,” said Butler. “My mother was patient, a thinker, and a realist. Who said complete opposites aren’t attracted to each other? Retaining those mineral rights was a blessing for now four generations of our McCullough family.”

Pam and her son Keegan are the only descendants still living on the farm located northwest of Manor and east of White Bear First Nation. Pam lives in the Cannington Lake store, which she completely renovated into a home many years ago. She is employed by Canada Post.

Keegan is busy renovating the railway station, located only 200 meters from his mother. Keegan, 28, is a heavy-duty mechanic employed by Canadian Energy Services. He also owns an apiary on the farm and is a beekeeper.